This page is referenced by:
media/Execution of Louis XVI Wikimedia EDIT.png
The French Revolution
This week has two big questions!
- How are the major course themes evident in our examination of the French Revolution? From module 1, we can certainly see some major changes. How is the Revolution a response to that world? Can we see how the historical patterns we've seen in modules 2 and 3 influenced the Revolution?
- How can the concept of gender help us to analyze the primary sources for this week's Lesson?
Video IntroductionAt the end of this week you should be able to:
- Tell the story of the major events of the French Revolution to a roommate (or friend or family member) in 15 minutes or less;
- Apply the skills of inference-making WITHOUT using the words "infer" or "inference" in any of your posts;
- Analyze the assigned primary sources using the category of "gender", as defined below (Background).
Questions to consider, and learning activity
You have two main tasks this week.TASK ONE: The first task in the Forum is to do your best to connect the history of the French Revolution with the broader themes of ATLANTIC WORLD history, using only the resources that we have provided you in this course. To do this you should do your best to connect major themes from Module 1 with major themes from what you know of Module 4. So far for Module 4 you have the Lesson on the American Revolution. This provides you with an incomplete history ... but with LOTS of material to draw strong inferences. If YOU are going to learn to think historically, you have to learn to make connections for yourselves. Task One gives you the chance to build your historical-thinking muscles. In other words, this first task is an exercise that gets you to practice skills of narrative-building (aka storytelling), contextualization, and corroboration, as well as the analysis of continuity / change, and cause / consequence. Check the Toolbox for more on these aspects of historical thinking. We want you to make as many connections to course materials and themes as you can in as concise a way as possible.
TASK TWO: The second task is to analyze the assigned primary sources to see what you can learn and infer about French Revolutionary attitudes about gender. "What is gender?" you might ask. In a famous essay from 1986 the historian Joan Scott defined "gender" as attitudes about the relationship between biological identity and socio-political power. Gender history asks us to consider the ways ideals of masculinity, femininity, and other dimensions of gender identities have influenced history, be that ordinary everyday understandings of meaning and identity, or major events like the French Revolution. Last week, we saw for example, that Abigail Adams brought different dimensions to her understanding of the American Revolution than did her husband, Samuel. Minimally, such examples suggest men and women may have interpreted their worlds differently; it could also mean that gender differences profoundly influence human relations, and therefore history.
BackgroundSo far in this section of your Lessons over the past many weeks, we have provided you with background information that helps contextualize the sources that are the focus of your learning activities. This week, we're doing something different. More so than the American Revolution, the French Revolution was very much about giving political power to people who had never held it before.
In its broad sweep, the French Revolution was about shifting political power away from the aristocratic ancien régime (old regime) to ordinary French citizens, Unlike America, where democracy had existed for some time and the colonists feared Britain was trying to remove democratic capacity, prior to the revolution there were very few democratic institutions in France, and the monarchy still held real power. But in our examination this week, we're going to focus not on that big story but on the role fo women in the revolution. We pick up our basic question from the American revolution and pursue the question of how liberty and freedom were defined. In particular, we'll examine the debate on what role women were imagined, and ultimately allowed, to have in liberal society. As we'll see, the answer was not much, but that did not stop several active political women from making the case. Thus, here we'll be examining how gender shaped political liberalism in the French Revolution.
When each of us is born, our parents and the world around us expect us to behave in certain ways. These expectations are the building blocks of our own sense of ourselves. Most times we accept these expectations as the way things are (that is, the natural way) and the way we should be, but sometimes we react against these expectations so that we define ourselves differently (that is, we react against the way others think is natural and necessary). Many of these expectations are based on our biological identities as girls / women OR boys / men, COMBINED WITH the cultural values that other people (and we???) associate with girls and boys.
The "complicated" part of this story of gender is that many of these expectations change with circumstances. What this means is that to be a "girl" or "boy" in the middle ages was not necessarily the same as being a "girl" or "boy" in the 1920s (your great grandparents' decade), or the 1970s (your parents' decade??), or the 2010s (your decade??). These expectations can even / also change from place to place in the same time (e.g., St. Catharines versus [any other city anywhere on the planet during whatever decade]).
The exercise above forces you to think about gender -- that is, attitudes about the relationship between biological identity and socio-political power (or meaning). Maybe now after this background you'll start thinking in new ways about spice, and puppy-dog tails, and snails -- and money and power in the Atlantic world!!! Think BIG about the course title in its relationship to this week's themes, and you'll start to get an idea of what we want you to think about. EVERYTHING, particularly relationships of power (which is one way of thinking about politics, and which is certainly important for making sense of revolutionary times). That's what gender is about. And that's what this Lesson is about. What's unique about gender is that it provides us as historians a different analytical perspective from which to view sources.
This week as always we encourage you to think big, BUT you are also required to write things that you can defend based on evidence from the sources that we have provided for you. This is the same challenge that you have for the final course project and the final exam. Now is a good time to practice!
In all of these documents, do you see criteria offered as to why, or why not, women should be allowed to participate in the politics of the new French Republic? That is, are there specific reasons offered by these writers suggesting where women fell short of what they maintained men held?
How does this fit with Raynal's discussion of rights and the enslaved? Note that Raynal was writing before the Revolution.
- Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen (1789)
- Abbé Raynal, A philosophical and political history of the settlements and trade of the Europeans in the East and West Indies in translation, (London, 1798 [originally 1770]. [excerpt from chapter 24].
- Olympe de Gouges, Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen (1791).
- Mary Wollstonecraft, Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792). [excerpt]
Wollstonecraft, you should note, was not a French writer, but was English. Her observations came not from the streets of Paris, but from the intellectual salons of London.
Secondary sourceJoan Scott, “French Feminists and the Rights of ‘Man’: Olympe De Gouges’s Declarations,” History Workshop, 28 (1989), pp. 1-21.
Robert Darnton, "What Was Revolutionary about the French Revolution?", New York Review of Books January 1989.